Drowning in debt?

I’m starting to wonder if the word we are worrying about things in the wrong order.

Thanks to President Donald Trump, we all seem to have the jitters about voters, and their tendency to elect politicians on the basis of a shallow promises or personality, rather than a detailed analysis of policy.

What we are much less worried about is our children, and what they are being taught at school. But it seems to me that if we worry about the kids most, we might not have to worry about the voters.

Let me give you an example. Financial literacy. Try to say it without yawning. Then take a look at how many children come out of school knowing about balancing a budget, financial management, savings or investments. According to Dr Pushpa Wood of the Financial Health Check, most kids don’t kreally have a clue.

But ask a kid about capitalism’s many apparent failings and you will get a barrage of brilliant information because analysing that stuff is part of the Social Studies curriculum.

Our priorities are a problem. You only need to look at our $36 billion credit card spend last year -almost two thirds of which incurred interest – to see that.

The problem looks much worse once you put skin on it. Once you talk, like I have, to a man who was on the verge of suicide because of his debts. Or the couple whose marriage was about to fall apart because of money mismanagement. Or the family struggling to feed their kids because they hadn’t been taught to tweak some very basic things. All of them, thankfully, were rescued by a budgeting agency.

Yes, mums and dads ought to be passing on good money habits. But even then, isn’t it in the national interest to raise citizens who have healthy money habits, just as much as it is in all of our interest for them to have healthy physical habits?

Just imagine a country where citizens saved for their retirements, invested responsibly so that they had capital available if, say, they lost their job suddenly, and ensured they had a budget that took into account all the ups and downs of life. So much more of the tax take could be thrown at other problems.

And yes, for those of you wondering, there are lots of little programmes trying to claw their way into a few weeks of curriculum to give kids the gift of practical knowledge, but often that teachers feel about as excited by the words “financial literacy” as you and I do.

Besides that, teachers might find the topic of money management extremely uncomfortable, especially if they’ve never been taught themselves. So why should they pick it up if it is only an optional bit of curriculum?

And that brings us back to what we worry about.

Theory is great, but it is not going to help the child sitting in school today learn how to manage a mortgage tomorrow. Nor will it help that child to start thinking about long-term savings, investments or, for that matter, having a “giving” budget so that they can donate to worthy causes. For the kids who don’t see healthy money habits at home, it means there is almost no chance of ever learning these things.

And, of course, if we don’t worry about kids learning all these things at school, why should we expect voters to care about details like the nation’s debt levels, or whether a government can balance a budget, or how to go about investing in national infrastructure?

If all of these things are left completely beyond our comprehension, there really is only the shallow to vote on. We really are stuck with deciding the future of our nation on political promises or power of personality.

 This article was first published on Stuff.co.nz

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